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Blue Thunder (1983)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell, Daniel Stern, Candy Clark, Warren Oates

Written By: Dan O'Bannon, Don Jakoby Directed By: John Badham

The Shot

Blue Thunder is a well-paced blast from the 1980s that plays as even more relevant three decades on than it was back in the day.  And hey: cool helicopter!

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Bleu Thunder, of course.

Pairs Well With...


From the 1980s to today, same as it ever was.

“One civilian dead for every ten terrorists.  That’s an acceptable ratio.”

“Unless you’re one of the civilians.”

There’s a climate of fear in America.  The threat of terrorists striking in the middle of downtown feels all too real.  Racial tensions simmer in the big city, with whispers that the cops and/or other powers that be might be stirring the pot.  Cops are being offered military equipment to “pacify” urban centers… and to spy on private conversations, even without a warrant. 

Sounds a lot like 2015, doesn’t it?

Dial things back three decades and change, and it also happens to be the backdrop for Blue Thunder, an action flick whose main reason for existence is a studio’s desire to shoot a helicopter chase over the Los Angeles skyline.  Not exactly the most likely candidate for latter-day relevance at first glance, but hey, there it is, and for modern movie watchers, that’s going to make Blue Thunder an especially interesting pick from the bargain bin at the local big box retailer.  (You can find the blu ray pretty easily for five bucks, which is an absolute steal for this.)  The possibilities for profound pontification the morning after popping this puppy into the player as a midnight movie are positively plentiful.

But before you engage your brain to tackle the modern day sociology… how about that badass 80s helicopter action, huh?

Even to modern eyes that have gotten used to the sight of Apache helicopters and other firepower-laden gunships, the Blue Thunder chopper still comes across as something special.  No, it’s not bristling with rockets and it’s not “tactical black,” but it doesn’t need those things to be drool-inducing for boys (and girls) of all ages.  With its single nose-mounted Gatling gun, outrigger intakes, turbo exhaust, “whisper mode,” and an overall design that looks like some sort of menacing alien bee with rotors, this helicopter just screams “badass.”  Simply put, it’s iconic, and it remains one of the best action movie vehicles of its decade.

 And oh, yes; it can fly.  The “whisper mode” test takes an earlier (and very 80s-cheesy) “peeping tom” scene and kicks it up a notch, but the best stuff happens when no one cares how loud the chopper gets.  The climactic air chase/battle over the skies of L.A. (which is never actually called by name during the course of the film) is fantastic even if it is a wee bit dated, and certainly everything the studio execs who asked the script to be crafted around it could have hoped for.  The cars-and-copter chase that leads up to that is pretty hot stuff, too (and even allows one to forget to ask if it might not have been easier to hide the special thing underneath the dumpster rather than inside of it).  Action complaints?  None here.

Had Blue Thunder stopped there, it would stand as a serviceably cool 80s action flick.  But what brings it to the next level (and thus makes it such a great bargain in the cheap bin) is the fact that the cool helicopter and fun action sequences come with a real story – co-penned by one of the writers of Alien, no less – and real acting.  Roy Scheider (2010) is forever reliable as the everyman hero, and Daniel Stern (Leviathan) is highly effective as the not-too-goofy sidekick who bears the wonderful nickname of “JAFO.”  Malcolm McDowell (Doomsday) chews scenery with creepy gusto as the off-balance villain, and Warren Oates (1941) delivers his final performance while putting his stamp on the gruff 80s police captain stereotype.  Together, these gents act out a story that not only manages to have the aforementioned prophetic relevance to future audiences (namely us), but that also flows exceptionally well.  That story brings purpose to the great action sequences, and the level of detail with which the lead characters are presented gives it all real weight.  Is this to say that Blue Thunder passes every logic test one could possibly throw at it?  Hardly.  But it passes more than enough, and is certainly a cut above the average defined by its peers.

So should you find yourself staring at Blue Thunder in the bargain bin – or on a menu of available titles offered by your favorite streaming service – don’t hesitate.  Go ahead and have a peep at this 80s action classic.  Come for the badass helicopter; stay for the modern discussion points.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2015

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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